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Natural remedies: Good for what ails you

Heed caution with these remedies

“Natural” products aren’t always safe or effective. Some herbal preparations cause side effects, such as bleeding and dizziness, when taken with prescription medicine or when you have a chronic condition like high blood pressure, thyroid disease or heart disease. Always talk with your doctor before self-prescribing any of these herbal supplements:

SupplementPotential side effects
Gingko bilobainternal bleeding, blood thinning
St. John’s wortfatigue, dizziness, confusion, dry mouth
Ephedra (or ma huang)high blood pressure, uneven heartbeat, nervousness, headaches, sleep difficulties
Kavasleepiness, rash, strange mouth and tongue movements

If you’ve ever sipped tea with lemon and honey for a sore throat or made chicken soup for a loved one with a cold, then you know the healing power of natural remedies. Some home cures can even save you a trip to the drugstore.

Here are some natural remedies to try when you need short-term relief for minor ailments:

  • Hard candy for heartburn

If heartburn sidelines you, suck on some hard candy—it encourages the production of saliva, which acts as a natural barrier to acid. Avoid mint candies, since they can stimulate acid reflux.

  • Going bananas to soothe an upset stomach

Doctors recommend bananas as part of the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce and toast) for children recovering from gastrointestinal upsets and diarrhea. Bland food that soothes little ones’ tummies can help yours, too.

  • Blocking pain with pepper

Ointments that contain capsaicin from cayenne pepper can reduce pain and are recommended by the American College of Rheumatology to treat knee osteoarthritis. Studies suggest they can also reduce pain and discomfort from shingles, psoriasis, toothache and other forms of arthritis. Watch for skin irritation and wash your hands thoroughly after applying. If you’re taking an ACE inhibitor for high blood pressure, talk to your doctor before using a capsaicin cream since interaction between the two can cause some people to develop a cough.

  • Ginger aid

Ginger can control nausea, vomiting or motion sickness. Steep fresh-cut ginger in boiling water for tea or swallow it in capsule form one to two grams daily in divided doses. (The maximum recommended daily dose is 4 grams, which includes food that contains ginger like ginger bread and ginger ale.) If you’re taking a blood thinner or a cancer medication or if you suffer from gallstones, talk with your doctor before using ginger.

  • Grapefruit seed extract for ulcers

Studies show that grapefruit seed extract, an over-the-counter supplement found in health-food stores, has antibacterial and antioxidant properties that calm the gastric tract and heal stomach ulcers. Don’t expect the same results with grapefruit juice, which can irritate the gastrointestinal tract and harmfully interact with some medications.

  • Corn oil to massage aches away

No need to go out and buy special massage oil to deal with everyday aches and pains—relief is in your kitchen cupboard. Massaging a tender spot with regular (not hot) sesame oil or corn oil lessens pain.

  • Hangover soup

Too much alcohol dehydrates you. If you’ve had one drink too many, try a cup of bouillon soup—great for replacing water, salt and potassium depleted by excess revelry.

If, after trying a natural remedy, your symptoms don’t improve or you experience new symptoms, seek medical expertise. A prescription medicine may be safer and more effective than something you pull from a health-food store shelf.


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